Sky owner Michael Alter interested in adding investors to help make organizational improvements

Alter believes the timing is right because of the team’s and league’s “attractive” story.

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Sky owner Michael Alter has brought in new investors, including Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts, to the franchise.

Chicago Sky owner Michael Alter speaks as the team celebrate its WNBA Championship title at Pritzker Pavilion, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

When WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced the league raised $75 million in capital last month, questions swirled about how it would affect the players.

Everything from the players’ salaries to the hot-button topic of chartered flights was brought into question, and Engelbert said transforming the league’s economic model was the priority. Growing revenue would allow for increases in players’ salaries and overall care, which includes those flights.

What wasn’t known at the time of the announcement was that months earlier, the WNBA Board of Governors considered an unofficial proposal from the Liberty to make charter flights the default form of travel, according to Sports Illustrated. The team claimed to have found a way to get the flights comped leaguewide for three years but failed to gain majority support.

The news left players and fans questioning why any owner would turn down the option for their team to charter. According to the report, multiple owners had concerns ranging from players getting used to the treatment to questioning if players preferred a salary bump. The league denied the proposal was made.

“At no point was there a proposal,” Engelbert told the Sun-Times. “Even to date, there’s been no proposal. I’ve been talking to companies and nobody is stepping up to pay over $20 million a year for [charter flights].”

That is the price for an entire season of charter flights for the league and Engelbert is adamant that it’s not financially responsible to take on that cost.

The difference between WNBA owners can’t be denied when it’s made evident through investment into the franchises. One example is Aces owner Mark Davis paying coach Becky Hammon a seven-figure salary, which is indicative of the investments made into the franchise.

Las Vegas isn’t the only team setting a new standard. The Lynx and the NBA’s Timberwolves opened a new 107,000-square-foot shared practice facility in 2015. Liberty players have been very outspoken about how Joe and Clara Wu Tsai treat them like their NBA counterparts.

Sky principal owner Michael Alter doesn’t see a divide between the new and old guard and Engelbert agrees.

“It’s part of our growth and success that we’re attracting owners like that,” Alter said. “There are things we agree on and things we don’t. It’s not new owners versus old owners.”

Adding to the Sky’s ownership group is top of mind for Alter, who wants to make improvements within the organization that it doesn’t have the revenue to support. He added the timing is right because the league and team have a valuable story to tell.

Alter didn’t specify where those potential investments would go, but there are a lot of possibilities, starting with an upgraded training facility. The Sky have practiced at Sachs Recreation Center in Deerfield for more than 10 years.

When Diamond DeShields had her introductory news conference with the Mercury, she said one thing that contributed to her signing was the access to state-of-the-art training facilities. That’s a benefit of being under the same ownership as their NBA counterpart, the Suns. The Mercury may have access to those facilities but during the playoffs last year the team was booted from Footprint Center to make way for a concert, highlighting the lack of gender equity in the organization.

Alter said there are always things the Sky can do better as an organization, but they don’t need to do anything radically different to draw free agents. He added that the franchise’s culture has kept players in Chicago and attracted top free agents.

Still, there is a widening gap between teams regarding player experience and amenities, and the Sky have a reputation as being in the bottom tier.

Sky CEO Adam Fox said the team is in constant conversation with players about ways the organization can improve to match the evolving landscape of the WNBA. Instead of matching the standard set by other teams, couldn’t the Sky be an organization that sets the standard?

“We have to make sure all the steps are working in concert,” Fox said.

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